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"Why Americans Hate the Media" (February 1996)
Why has the media establishment become so unpopular? Perhaps the public has good reason to think that the media's self-aggrandizement gets in the way of solving the country's real problems. By James Fallows



Flashbacks
 
Media Mergers

June 2, 2003
 
oday the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease restrictions on corporate media ownership. Companies will now be permitted to own television stations that reach up to 45 percent of American households. And owning both a newspaper and a broadcast station in a major market will no longer be illegal.

While many major media companies are pleased with this development, some experts fear the consequences. Michael Copps, one member of the FCC who opposed the decision, expressed the views of many when he characterized the move as investing "America's ... media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy depend."

Such concerns are not new. In the late 1960s, during a flurry of media-industry mergers, The Atlantic published several articles that pointedly asked, Who controls the media? and How big is too big? In "The Media Barons and the Public Interest: an FCC Commissioner's Warning" (June 1968), Nicholas Johnson described how, as a newly appointed member of the FCC in 1966, he gradually gained a comprehension of the frightening extent to which the tentacles of big business were intricately and seemingly inextricably intertwined with the functioning of the media:

Economic self-interest does influence the content of the media, and as the media tend to fall into the control of corporate conglomerates, the areas of information and opinion affecting those economic interests become dangerously wide-ranging. What is happening to the ownership of the American Media today? What dangers does it pose? Taking a look at the structure of the media in the United States, I am not put at ease by what I see.
The following year, two articles sought to expose some of the corporate maneuvering and undue accumulations of influence in the world of American media at the time. Hyman H. Goldin's "The Television Overlords" traced the startlingly far-reaching extent of the political and economic influence of the three broadcast giants—CBS, NBC, and ABC. And, in "The American Media Baronies, a modest Atlantic Atlas," the Atlantic's editors presented a compilation of information about "the men, families, and combines who dominate the newspapers, radio, TV, and other media in this country." The article did point out that the U.S. government was then beginning to step in and enact legislation to prevent dominance of the media by the few. As a result of new Justice Department and FCC regulatory legislation, the authors explained, "it is expected that the gobbling up of papers and channels by the baronies will at least proceed at a slower rate."

Now, however, three decades later, as such laws are gradually rolled back or overturned, the reverse is true; we may be about to witness a spate of media mergers on a grand scale.


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